Washington: Astronomers have recently revealed that they have probably witnessed a supermassive black hole chocking while eating up a star.
The astronomers made the discovery with the help of five-year analysis of an event captured by a tiny telescope at McDonald Observatory and followed up by telescopes on the ground and in space.
On January 21, 2009, the ROTSE IIIb telescope at McDonald caught the flash of an extremely bright event. The telescope's wide field of view takes pictures of large swathes of sky every night, looking for newly exploding stars as part of the ROTSE Supernova Verification Project (RSVP).
Software then compares successive photos to find bright "new" objects in the sky, transient events like the explosion of a star or a gamma-ray burst.
With a magnitude of -22.5, this 2009 was event was as bright as the "superluminous supernovae" (a new category of the brightest stellar explosions known) that the ROTSE team discovered at McDonald in recent years.
The team nicknamed the 2009 event "Dougie," after a character in the cartoon South Park. (Its technical name is ROTSE3 J120847.9+430121.)
Though astronomers have seen black holes swallow stars before, though less than a dozen times, this one is special even in that rare company: It's not going down easy.
Models by team members James Guillochon of Harvard and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz at the University of California, Santa Cruz, showed that the disrupted stellar matter was generating so much radiation that it pushed back on the infall. The black hole was choking on the rapidly infalling matter.
Based on the characteristics of the light from Dougie, and their deductions of the star's original mass, the team has determined that Dougie started out as a Sun-like star , before being ripped apart.
The study is published in the Astrophysical Journal.